Are we living in a simulated world? Rene Descartes says that it is possible. His doubt about the reality of what we experience is resurfacing now, despite the many who presume his views and thoughts are invalid.
Everything around us, everything that we observe, is just a glimpse of our physical existence. Nick Bostrom says that the world we sense and believe to be real does not exist in reality.
What is “Reality”?
This question has been contemplated by many philosophers and psychedelic enthusiasts for centuries. They have been forming theories that run the spectrum from spiritual to scientific for centuries.
The answer seems evident from an empirical standpoint: anything we can perceive using one or more of our senses is reality. But some intellectual thinkers, including physicists and philosophers, argue that’s not necessarily the case. It may be possible, they theorize, that “reality” is just an advanced, computer-generated simulation in which we simulate life, love, laughter, and work as per the program’s commands.
From the time it started gaining publicity, many people have stated their thought that the Simulation Creationism Theory is nothing but a modern offshoot of Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” That story is from the ancient Greek philosopher’s book “The Republic.” The unreality of our perceptions was further discussed as Rene Descartes’s evil demon theory from the French philosopher’s “First Meditation.”
In The Republic, prisoners in the cave believed that the life they saw on the wall of the cave they occupied was real life. But, one prisoner got a chance to get out of the cave, and when he came out of the cave, his eyes were hurting due to the light of the sun. He felt that the life he was living in the cave was more comfortable. Somehow, he encouraged himself to face life outside of the cave. Later on, he accepted real life, where he could see the real things: sky, lights, nature, etc. When he realized that the rest of the prisoners were still in the cave and were trapped in a fake world, he decided to go back, and he wanted to convince them to come out of the cave. But they couldn’t leave the life they had assumed to be real. Plato tried to compare the prisoners’ experiences with our own. He believed we might have been trapped in some unreal world that we accepted as real. The life we are living is quite comfortable, so we don’t want to leave this cave.
Both stories are based on the conflict between what we experience and what really exists, a subject that continues to agitate, baffle, and provoke us.
What is Simulation Theory?
Simulation theory is the concept that the world that we see and feel around us is virtual. It is the hypothesis that the world is actually a computer-generated world that is overseen by a highly advanced intelligence.
A graduate of MIT and Stanford, and the author of “The Simulation Hypothesis,” Rizwan Virk, said that the fact that we perceive the world as “real” and “material” does not mean that the world we perceive is the reality. The properties of quantum physics throw some doubts upon the reality of the material universe. The deeper scientists look for the “material” in the material world, the more they find it does not exist.
These findings in quantum physics question the existence of the material universe.
Virk mentioned an American theoretical physicist, John Wheeler, who worked with Albert Einstein. Wheeler said that physics evolved from the premise that “everything is a particle” to “everything is information” within his lifetime. He also created the phrase “it from a bit,” which is prominent in scientific circles and is used to imply that digital information must precede the physical world. Wheeler Noted that everything is based on information. Virk added that even physics describes particles as “kind of fuzzy,” implying they may be quantum bits.
An Australian philosopher and scientist specializing in the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language, David Chalmers, has suggested humanity is accountable for this hyper-realistic simulation; it’s possible that we may or may not be like a “programmer that can simulate another universe,” an entity that many might think of as God, albeit not necessarily in the conventional sense. David Chalmers said that this programmer could be a teenager who hacked a computer program and created five universes in the background. However, there might be a supernatural being behind the creation of the entire universe.
An American scientist described as one of the most significant theoretical physicists, David Bohm, once stated this problematic belief: Reality is what we take as true. What we take as real is what we believe. What we believe is based on our perception. What is based on our perception is what we perceive. We recognize what we are looking for and what we are looking for depends on what we think and consider. Things that we think depend on what we see and perceive; whatever we perceive determines what we believe, what we believe establishes what we consider to be true. What we consider to be true is our ‘reality.’
What is commonly accepted as real is disbelieved by a few people; one of them is Elon Musk, who said that it’s very possible we are in a simulation and the chance that we are in base reality is one in billions. It might be impossible for us to create virtual worlds at present, but someday it could be possible to create a simulated consciousness and world.
Elon Musk made a strong argument in 2016 that we are probably in a simulation by discussing how video games have increased in complexity over time. He said that forty years ago, we had a 2D game called Pong that consisted of two rectangles and a dot. Now, after 40 years, we have photorealistic 3D simulations played by millions of people simultaneously. Our technology is getting better and our games are being updated every year. He further said that we would soon have games based on virtual reality, and said that we will soon have augmented reality. He argued that games will ultimately become identical to reality if you assume any realistic rate of improvement.
How Would This Work?
A Swedish-born philosopher, Nick Bostrom, explained in a paper published in 2003 titled “Are You Living in a Computer Simulation?” that later generations or post-humans might have the capability to run a simulation of their ancestors’ world. They will have super-powerful computers that can run infinite numbers of detailed simulations of their forebears; in such a simulated world, the simulated beings would possess a kind of artificial consciousness.
He explained that in the future, it may be the case that the vast majority of minds similar to ours would not belong to the original world but to simulated worlds that advanced beings created. Then, it would be possible to argue that if this were the case, it would be highly likely that we are one of that simulated race, not a member of the race that created worlds like ours.
Nick Bostrom also wrote that the type of descendants who would run simulations would need enough computing power to keep detailed records of what simulated humans believed at all times. This is because it would require sensing observations before they happened to provide simulated information about what could be noticed. That way, if anyone saw a flaw within the simulation, then the creator—whether it is an alien or a teenager—would start editing the perceptions of those simulated minds before the glitch spoiled the simulation. In the case of glitches, it is also possible that the simulation director might take a step back and rerun the program.
Virk considers that we’re probably not very close yet, but he suggests that at some point we will be able to experience actual reality. He told Built-In that we are nearly halfway to our destination of ten checkpoints on the road to full-blown world simulation. He also said there are some significant barriers ahead, such as the need to create brain-computer interfaces. Unlike in “The Matrix,” they don’t exist yet.
Do We Live in a Simulation?
Today all scientists, physicists, psychologists, and philosophers are seeking the answer to this question. This has been a subject of argument since the Enlightenment.
Super-powerful computers capable of attaining sentience first came into the public eye in the dystopian blockbuster “The Terminator.” Simulation theory is gaining similar levels of attention thanks to “The Matrix,” the sci-fi thriller made by the Wachowski siblings that portrays a post-apocalyptic world in which most of humanity has been captured by a race of machines that live off of heat and electrochemical energy produced by the humans whose minds they confine within an artificial reality. In the film “The Matrix,” human beings believe they are living their everyday lives, and they are not aware that they are in a computer-generated simulation, because a cable plugged into their neocortices transmits signals into their brains and allows for their responses virtually.
As we said above, there are ten checkpoints on the way to full-blown simulation, and we are midway to our destination.
Virk explained that in order to achieve something like an artificial intelligence in the real world, we would require a greater understanding of human consciousness. He also said that a far less technical alternative is to deceive any consciousness that starts considering that we aren’t in the real world while it is actually in a simulation on a computer in which non-player characters show intelligent, human-like behavior that passes the Turing Test.
He concludes by saying that this, somewhat inauspiciously, is coming. Preston Greene, a philosophy professor, told Built that he feels that we might be in a simulation, but that trying to prove this could be dangerous.
Similar to nowadays, researchers will use simulations that can improve scientific research using digital objects including our world. Every single moment of our past could be the simulated experiment of our post-human. Just like scientists can stop simulations of weather, volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, etc. when they do not provide useful data, so too can our hypothetical masters pull the plug at any time, without prior notice or warning. Greene added that we shouldn’t worry about this, as it would be quick and painless.
If physicists utilized virtual experiments, letting us know that we were living in a simulation would affect our civilization’s behavior on a large scale. Greene explained that our simulation would no longer be useful for acknowledging the questions about reality’s foundational level, that computer-generated simulations could help us explore.
The reason Greene claims we’ll never acquire experimental evidence to support Simulation Creationism is that our creators might react to the observation that we’re trying to prove that we are in a simulation by pulling the plug, shutting down the simulation. This is a serious concern, especially for those who believe we might live in a simulation.
The simulation hypothesis was discussed in 2016 during the 17th annual Isaac Asimov debate. A few expert philosophers participated, such as Chalmers, astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, Zohreh Davoudi, and Lisa Randall.
Lisa Randall said that there is no strong evidence to prove we live in a simulated world instead of the real world. She wonders why a creator that could simulate anything would choose to simulate human beings. She says that simulation theory does not have a foundation in well-defined probabilities. She even thinks that a great and advanced species wouldn’t be very interested in simulating or bothering us.
She has a point here; think about the ever-growing proof that human development is destroying the natural world.
When Dmitry Kovrizhi and Zohar Ringel published an article titled “Quantized Gravitational Responses, the Sign Problem, and Quantum Complexity” in 2017, many people thought the simulation hypothesis invalid. Zohar even dismissed this question later, saying that the theory is not even related to a scientific question.
Unlike others, they proved that a classical computing technique, “Quantum Monte Carlo,” which is utilized to simulate quantum particles, was not capable enough to simulate a quantum computer. This breakthrough would contradict the possibility of physically building these super machines. We should forget about simulating the universe if it is impossible to simulate a quantum computer.
According to Cosmos.com, some researchers said that to store numerous electrons would require so much computer memory that it would physically require more atoms than exist in the entire universe.
Despite all this skepticism, Ringel, the paper’s lead author, appeared to leave the door ever so slightly open when he asked whether there is anyone who knows about the computing abilities of anything that is simulating us. Now, the question arises, what are the limits of computing?
Greene and Bostrum’s thoughts suggest that there could be an advanced species that possesses a computer system to create an even faster supercomputer, similar to Commodore 64s. Or perhaps they have perfected quantum computing. There is also a possibility that they would develop technology that we cannot even imagine.
Simulation Creationism Theory seems a bit flaky, but the topic is often the center of attention. Astronomer Martin Rees expressed interest in this theory in an interview with Space.com. He said the real question is this: What are the limits of computing power? Is there any limit?
By observing the real things around us that can be simulated now, we see that there is a high probability that scientists of the future will be able to create inconceivably advanced simulations on their supercomputers. They might become capable of running simulations that appear far more natural than anything we’ve yet developed.
An English physicist, writer, broadcaster, and professor at Arizona State University, Paul Davies has shared many compelling ideas on this popular and complicated topic, and his opinion is still being sought out. He told Built In via email that he had suddenly been flooded with media queries about simulation theory.
Davies has discussed simulation theory so much that he prefers to let his past contemplations—including this last one—do the talking. There is a story in “The Guardian” from 2003 where he suggested simulation conditions that are mind-boggling.
It has been proved by mathematics that a universal computing machine can create a virtual consciousness that would make a world for itself. In this way, an infinite number of virtual worlds would be created. In short, we could say there are multiple simulations inside the simulation, and so on. Since fake planets can exceed real ones without any limitation, real multiverses would generate many virtual multiverses. There would be an unlimited number of virtual multiverses found within each other.
Hence, all bets are off once we start going far enough down the multiverse route; reality begins to dissolve, leaving us with no reason to believe we live in a simulated world. Science is reduced to a lampoon by these theories because our world’s simulator—whatever or whoever they are—can make any false laws they delight in and keep changing them at will.
Whether There is a Sim or Not, Who Cares?
Again, you are wondering why any of this matters. Why would we want to prove that the life we are leading is merely a computer-generated program? Why prove that everything around us is digitally constructed by some highly advanced species that is operating us?
Virk said that the broad answer could be what all good science seeks: to learn what is true, or more precisely, what is real.
If the reality is that we exist in a video game that needs our characters to execute specific tasks and fulfill certain conditions to progress, Virk posited, wouldn’t it be essential to know what type of game we were in to increase our chances to survive in that world?
Not surprisingly, his answer is an unconditional yes.
Whatever type of world we live within, it is evident that it creates many different opinions.